Introducing Those Who Specialize in the Sale of Churchill Books: The Churchill Book Specialist in Tucson, Arizona
This month we complete our series profiling rare book dealers who specialize in the works of Winston Churchill by speaking with Mark Weber, owner of The Churchill Book Specialist in Tuscon, Arizona.
CB: Who are you?
MW: I and my wife, Avril, are the proprietors of The Churchill Book Specialist, a mailorder bookseller specializing in all manner of Churchill collectibles. Our inventory is not limited to fine (and expensive) first editions. We also stock almost all editions of books by Churchill including low-cost copies and foreign-language versions. Additionally, we carry books about Churchill, books with contributions from Churchill, pamphlets and a wide array of Churchill ephemera, which can be viewed at our website www.wscbooks.com.
CB: How did you become interested in Churchill?
MW: Having lived through the trauma of the Vietnam War, I became interested in World War II as it was the last time the US was united on something. Reading and collecting histories of the war, I eventually came to Churchill’s Memoirs. I then bought a few other Churchill books, but the epiphany came in the 1980s when I was working in England and attended the London Bookfair. I saw a set of the Chartwell edition of Churchill’s war history priced at several hundred pounds. I asked the seller if these books were really that valuable. The seller turned out to be Michael Wybrow, an English dealer specializing in Churchill.
CB: So you went into the Churchill book business yourself?
MW: I started collecting Churchill books, which expanded into selling them with my first catalogue in 1988, which expanded into a large part-time business. My day job took me all over Europe. My wife and I raided bookshops in every major city. And then there were the auctions. Most of the great early Churchill collections formed in the 1940s, 50s and 60s came through the London auction houses in the 1990s. I bought heavily including a several thousand volume lot that required me to hire a truck to get it home to our South Kensington flat.
CB: Why did you relocate to Arizona?
MW: The computer company I worked for went into decline and let me go in 1997. This resulted in a shift to full-time bookselling. As most of our customers were in the US, we elected to leave London. Tucson was selected for warm weather and low house prices. The movers filled over 700 boxes with books and sent the whole lot over in a 40-foot container. We then rented a flat near Heathrow so we could return to Britain for one week each month to buy books. The highlight was the purchase of Michael Wybrow’s collection in 2000. You hear of people talking about “tons of books”, but this really was EIGHT TONS of books and related Churchill material. I am still selling items from that collection 13 years later!
CB: What trends do you see in pricing, supply and demand?
MW: Today’s market for Churchill books has changed dramatically. Competition on the internet has driven down prices on most of the books, sometimes to less than a dollar. First editions are another matter. The London auction houses are getting very little quality Churchill material. The main source these days is private collections. Prices are no longer rising, but top condition books are rarely offered. Even popular sets such as The Second World War are nearly impossible to find in truly fine dustjackets. As for ceramics, Ebay has driven down prices there. The earlier high-end ceramics from 1965 and 1974 are seldom seen and still bring good prices.
CB: How do you attract new (and younger) customers?
MW: Most new customers come as a result of the internet. But precious few of my customers are under forty. In England, most under 30s think of Churchill as primarily a car insurance company.
CB: What advice do you have about building a collection?
MW: There is no right answer as this is a matter of personal taste. Most people start off seeking a copy of each book by Churchill, of which there are some 50; a list is available on my website [CLICK HERE]. There are reasonably priced editions available for most books by Churchill. As soon as a collector starts to go after first editions, the most important factor is condition. There is a sweet spot for books at 80-90% condition, i.e. attractive copies with minor flaws. There is a huge price jump above that. Books about Churchill can be very inexpensive, so a large collection can be created for little cost. Collectors are most likely to “score” in acquiring author-signed books about Churchill, except those by Churchill’s bodyguard Det. Insp. Thompson, who seemed to sign them in the thousands!
CB: What are your favorite Churchill books?
MW: The River War and Arms and the Covenant. The River War is a combination of boy’s-own adventure and a narrative of the British Empire at its peak. Stir all this into a lavish two-volume production on coated paper with coloured maps. No other Churchill book approached this one for production standards. Arms and the Covenant has to be the ultimate “I told you so” book. His speeches in this book warning about Hitler and the Nazis turned out to be accurate and prophetic.
CB: Why do you think people are so interested in Churchill?
MW: I hear this question a lot, and the answer is so simple. Our current leaders are not heroes. People are forced to look to the past for heroes, and Churchill is the greatest one from the past century.
CB: What Churchill title or edition would you most like to have in your own collection?
MW: My reference collection already has the best example in most cases of every edition of every book by Churchill. I do not have first editions of For Free Trade and Mr. Brodrick’s Army. I have had both in the past but could not justify having that much value just sitting there. So I really have no plans to expand my collection and will likely be selling it in the future.